Bon Voyage, Best Actress Oscar Curse

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It’s Valentine’s Day, and I can’t think of a better time to discuss what’s come to be known as the Best Actress Oscar Curse. No doubt, you’ve heard about it by now. If you haven’t, here’s a little crash course, starting with Sandra Bullock.

As you may recall, last year, just days after she won the Best Actress Oscar for "The Blind Side," Bullock’s seemingly solid marriage to Jesse James was suddenly on the rocks. Questions and theories emerged: Was James so intimidated by his wife’s success (and big, shiny statue) that he felt the need to massage his ego with another woman? Did their crumbling marriage have broader implications about relationships in which women are more successful than their partners? And, perhaps most important to Oscar-watchers and winners: Is there a Best Actress Oscar Curse?

All evidence seemed to point to the answer being yes on the last question. Of the past decade’s Best Actress winners, including Bullock, half separated from their husbands shortly after their wins. Among them: Kate Winslet (2008’s winner for “The Reader,” former wife of Sam Mendes), Reese Witherspoon (2005’s winner for “Walk the Line,” former wife of Ryan Phillippe), Hillary Swank (2004’s winner for “Million Dollar Baby” and 1999’s winner for “Boys Don’t Cry,” former wife of Chad Lowe), and Halle Berry (2001’s winner for “Monster’s Ball,” former wife of Eric Benet).

Since the discovery of the Best Actress Oscar Curse, numerous articles have been written on the so-called phenomenon. On the more controversial end was a piece in last year’s New York Times called “The Sandra Bullock Trade” by David Brooks. It asked: Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow? (The controversy stemmed from the article’s implication that the two go hand-in-hand).

On the more scholarly end is a recent piece, also in The New York Times, by Catherine Rampell called “The Oscar Curse: Or, Why it Stinks to Be A Successful Woman.”  In her heavily researched piece, Rampell looks at Academy Award winners and nominees going back to 1936. Through charts and hard numbers, she illustrates that a Best Actress winner’s risk of divorce is 1.68 times the risk of a non-winning Best Actress nominee (incidentally, there was no substantial difference in divorce rates for Best Actor winners and non-winning nominees).

In short, the Best Actress Oscar Curse seems real.

But I can’t help but wonder if the curse might eventually age itself out, and do so sooner rather than later. Here’s why: It’s not 1959 (or even 2009) anymore. Men, particularly younger men, are accustomed to their women being successful, and almost half the time, according to some surveys, being more successful than them. For example, a new poll by Women’s Health magazine found that 49 percent of heterosexual American women surveyed think they are doing much better in their career than the man in their life. 70 percent of surveyed women said they “don't need for their partner to have more career success than they do.” And, according to Women's Health editor Lisa Bain, the majority of men “don't feel threatened by their [women’s] success — they're more likely to get a kick out of it.”

If Oscar winners are anything like the rest of us (and let’s pretend for a minute that they are), this means Natalie Portman and her choreographer fiance Benjamin Millepied may have a chance of making it work, after February 27th.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Nat and Ben - and all you other Oscar lovers out there, as well.